By Andrew L. Urban
On a sunny winter Saturday afternoon in Sydney, I started watching The Staircase, thinking I’d spend a couple of hours on it. It was Sunday afternoon, before I finished my binge, only breaking for dinner and sleep. The Staircase is some 13 hours of riveting and disturbing viewing, a slow motion disaster movie in which a man is crushed by the state, the prosecution determined to secure a murder conviction – by fair means or foul.
By Andrew L. Urban, Jennie Herrera, Lynn Giddings
When the Supreme Court in Hobart convenes for the final, crucial session on August 20, 2018, to hear Sue Neill-Fraser seeking leave to appeal against her murder conviction, members of the official Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group Inc. will be there for her, as they have been since even before her controversial murder conviction in October 2010. Who are they? What drives them? How did they coalesce into the determined and persistent citizen army they have remained? What have they achieved?
For those unfamiliar with the Neill-Fraser case, our March 2015 report provides a full background briefing. It is one of several media reports over the years (of them a great many published here on Wrongful Convictions Report), but the extensive, highly visible role of the Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group has never been properly reflected in those reports. In this double-decker feature, Continue reading
There are very substantial doubts about this case … the evidence is so weak …. it is hard to see how any conviction could stand … Tasmania’s legal system risks being a laughing stock, if it wasn’t such a tragedy. The words of Chester Porter QC on the Sue Neill-Fraser case.
Chester Porter QC and Stuart Tipple – both key players in the notorious Lindy Chamberlain miscarriage of justice – were part of the panel discussion* at the only Sydney screening (Chauvel, November 5, 2013), of Shadow of Doubt, Eve Ash’s award winning documentary about the flawed investigation that led to Sue Neill-Fraser’s conviction for the murder of her partner, Bob Chappell. Continue reading
By Andrew L. Urban.
Small time crim John Thompson was nearly executed for a murder he didn’t commit. At his trial in 1985, the New Orleans prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence. Then District Attorney – Harry Connick Snr (now retired) – brags about the aggressive, win at all costs culture in his office.
In this New Yorker podcast, we hear him confirm his office is there to get convictions: “that’s what we do”. He chuckles as he recalls that “a lot of defendants weren’t happy with what we were doing,” shrugging off their concerns: “we weren’t there for them – we’re there for those who elected us”. Thompson (below) knows that all too well.
Bill Rowlings* questions how ‘professional’ is the Legal Profession Board of Tasmania. It’s a quango that only recently worked out it needs to abide by model litigant principles, a decade after it was created. And it seems to particularly dislike the right of people to question, scrutinise and dissent.
Barbara Etter** is a lawyer who has been contesting complaints against her that are being investigated by the Legal Profession Board.
By Andrew L. Urban
In her long running appeal against her 2010 murder conviction, Hobart grandmother Sue Neill-Fraser is finding new obstacles, compounded by inaccurate reporting: a fellow prisoner, Stephen Gleeson, has been charged with perverting justice (in her favour). After his hearing on March 23, 2018, the ABC’s Edith Bevan reported that prosecutor “Mr Shapiro told the court Gleeson had a number of visitors to Risdon Prison during 2017. They included Neill-Fraser’s then lawyer Barbara Etter, filmmaker Eve Ash, private detective Colin McLaren and lawyer Jeffrey Thompson.”
Eve Ash wrote to Bevin pointing out that she had never met Gleeson, never visited him in prison. Bevan didn’t reply, but her report on the ABC website was changed to: “Mr Shapiro told the court Gleeson had a number of visitors to Risdon Prison during 2017. They included Neill-Fraser’s then lawyer Barbara Etter, private detective Colin McLaren and lawyer Jeffrey Thompson. Mr Shapiro told the court the private detective was working for documentary filmmaker Eve Ash. Ash did not personally visit Gleeson in prison.”
By Frederick Block *
JABBAR COLLINS languished in jail for over 16 years for a murder he apparently never committed. He was only freed a few years ago when it was revealed at a post-conviction hearing that the main witness at his trial had told the prosecutor that he was pressured by police to lie about Collins’ involvement in the murder.
The prosecutor, representing the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, never shared that information with Collins’ lawyer—an egregious violation of the law, which requires the government to inform the defense of any exculpatory evidence. At the hearing, the judge who tossed out Collins’ conviction called the conduct of the prosecutor and the DA’s office “shameful” and a “tragedy.”
By Andrew L. Urban
In the context of the immigration debate Australia’s Prime Minister (and lawyer of renown), recently extolled the virtues of Australian democracy and its adherence to the ‘rule of law principles’, yet “the criminal appeal system in Australia has failed to comply with its obligations to apply the rule of law,” according to two legal academics, Associate Professor Bibi Sangha and Dr Robert Moles, both of Flinders University, who are calling for an inquiry into ‘abuse of process’ in the system.
“The requirement to ensure that persons accused of criminal offences receive a fair trial and that they also have the right to an effective appeal would hardly be contentious,” they say in a joint statement which claims that Australia is failing its human rights obligations “contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Australia ratified in 1980.”
Andrew L. Urban
Tim Ellis SC, then Tasmania’s DPP and the man who prosecuted Sue Neill-Fraser in 2010 for murder, addressed several aspects of his prosecution – in public. It’s rare that a prosecutor speaks in detail publicly about one of his cases – especially one that is contentious. It is instructive to revisit parts of that email exchange now, three years later.
In Tasmanian Times, May 5, 2015, Tim Ellis published an email exchange between journalist Susan Horburgh of the Australian Women’s Weekly and himself, in preparation for an article she was writing about the Sue Neill-Fraser case. (It was published on July 27, 2015.) Horsburgh put some questions to Ellis; here is an extract from their exchange, together with relevant extracts from the trial transcript.
By Andrew L. Urban
A sensational late summer day in Hobart on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 – which I spent on a yacht on the Derwent thanks to my brother and sister in law – can in hindsight be seen as a positive omen in the Sue Neill-Fraser case. The sun shone its light into the darkness of a case that has divided Tasmanians and perplexed mainlanders who had heard of it. It was yet another hearing in her quest for leave to appeal her 2010 murder conviction under (relatively) new legislation. (Hearing continues, adjourned to June 26, 2018.)